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Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis October 26, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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The sequel to the popular GBA title is quite different from its predecessor – and different is good.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis is probably best described as Lemmings, Nintendo-style. Whereas the first installment of the series had Mario collecting the mini Mario toys stolen by Donkey Kong, this time the minis take center stage. Across 72 levels, players must guide the minis in order to rescue Pauline, the damsel in distress from the original Donkey Kong game whom the simian has once again kidnapped. This is no walk in the park: each level is replete with obstacles that will require patience and careful planning if the minis are to make it to safely to the exit at each stage.

The game mechanics ensure that this title will have something to offer players of all ages. Typically, the game makes good use of the DS’s touch screen. Simple strokes with the stylus allow players to make the minis go through their range of motions, which are limited to moving left and right, jumping, causing other minis to begin moving when they bump into stationary ones, and changing direction when they hit a wall or another mini. The game gets progressively difficult, with new elements introduced to the different stages as one advances throughout the game. These include powerups such as Fire Flowers or hammers, pipes and elevators, moving platforms, conveyor belts, switches, and of course enemies. However, no stage is so difficult as to render them impossible to complete; in fact, each stage can take anywhere between one to twenty minutes to go through, making for great casual gaming.

Completing stages is one thing; perfecting them is another. This is where the puzzler derives its addictive appeal, as well as much of its replay value. Players are rewarded for their efforts with bronze, silver or gold stars when they beat a stage depending on how they do it, and these stars are the key to the unlockables throughout the game (mostly “Whack-a-Mole”-esque minigames and hidden boss battles). This means that, really, players make any stage as difficult as they want it to be. Novices may settle for controlling the minis one after another to send them to the exit; more expert players will opt to command the minis simultaneously to save on time and cover more ground. And for the ultimate challenge and gold star guarantee, there’s nothing like going for the minis’ chain bonus (sending them through the exit one after another) without ever stopping any of them for the duration of the level (nonstop bonus). Easier said than done.

As an added perk, the game also makes use of Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection, but not in the usual sense. A level editor allows players to design their own levels and trade it with others over the Wi-Fi network. For the most dedicated of gamers this is probably very fulfilling, but it is difficult to imagine exactly how far a person can go designing a level with a stylus. Also, this feature is best utilized to trade levels with friends as Nintendo hardly releases any new levels on their own (to date, there are perhaps only two out there).

For a game that is genuinely engaging, there are some drawbacks. The most glaring of these is perhaps the boss battles, which entail shooting minis out of a cannon towards Donkey Kong. This would be fun instead of mostly frustrating had there been more control over the cannon, which operates more like a ship’s helm with way too much inertia. Additionally, the final boss battle as well as the two unlockable ones are a bit of a letdown, departing from both the sidescrolling puzzle format of the game and the cannon-shooting bonanza of all other boss stages in favor of a deliberate throwback to the original Donkey Kong game. High on the novelty and retro appeal, but low on overall impact.

Also, game controls could use some tweaking. While a player can conceivable play the game exclusively with a stylus (even left handed ones), stylus controls become slightly unwieldy when one needs to control a specific mini that’s moving with others in a tight group. Further, what the game really lacks is a means to cycle through minis throughout the stage at a press of a button instead of having to look for them. Thankfully, none of these things distract too much from the overall experience and hopefully will be improved upon in future installments (and there better be future installments!).

With Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Nintendo has once again come up with a gem that will entertain gamers of all persuasions. Addictive, engaging and simple to play, there has never been a better excuse to see how far these minis will march to save someone from a monkey named after a mule.

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